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[Dehai-WN] NYTimes.com: What's He Got to Hide?

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 29 Jan 2012 12:06:32 +0100

What's He Got to Hide?

The case of two Swedish journalists imprisoned in Ethiopia sheds light on a
harsh campaign of repression.

holasdkristof/index.html?inline=nyt-per> NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: January 29, 2012

IN a filthy Ethiopian prison that is overridden with lice, fleas and huge
rats, two Swedes are serving an 11-year prison sentence for committing

Martin Schibbye, 31, and Johan Persson, 29, share a narrow bed, one man's
head beside the other's feet. Schibbye once woke up to find a rat mussing
his hair.

The prison is a violent, disease-ridden place, with inmates fighting and
coughing blood, according to Schibbye's wife, Linnea Schibbye Steiner, who
last met with her husband in December. It is hot in the daytime and freezing
cold at night, and the two Swedes are allowed no mail or phone calls, she
said. Fortunately, she added, the 250 or so Ethiopian prisoners jammed in
the cell protect the two journalists, pray for them and jokingly call their
bed "the Swedish embassy."

What was the two men's crime? Their offense was courage.
sts-terrorism> They sneaked into the Ogaden region to investigate reports of
human rights abuses.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's increasingly tyrannical ruler,
seemed to be sending a signal to the world's journalists: Don't you dare
mess with me!

So the only proper response is a careful look at Meles's worsening
repression. Sadly, this repression is abetted by acquiescence from
Washington and by grants from aid organizations.

Those Swedish journalists will probably be released early because of
international pressure. But there will be no respite for the countless
Ethiopians who face imprisonment, torture and rape.

I'm in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual meeting of the
<http://www.weforum.org/> World Economic Forum, and so is Meles. I've been
pursuing him for the last few days, trying to confront him and ask him about
his worsening pattern of brutality.

He has refused to see me, so I enlisted <http://twitter.com/nickkristof> my
Twitter followers to report Meles sightings. I want to ask him why he has
driven more journalists into exile over the last decade than any other
leader in the world, <http://www.cpj.org/africa/ethiopia/> according to the
Committee to Protect Journalists in New York City.

Meles has done genuine good in fighting poverty. He has some excellent
officials under him,
missioners/tedros-adhanom-ghebreyesus> including a superb health minister,
and Ethiopia's economy is making progress in health and agriculture.
Ethiopia is full of aid organizations, and it has a close intelligence and
military relationship with the United States government.

Yet since 2005, when an initial crackdown left 200 protesters dead and
30,000 detained, Meles has steadily tightened his grip.
-hardship> A Human Rights Watch report this month noted that the government
is forcibly removing tens of thousands of people from their rural homes to
artificial villages where they risk starvation. Those who resist endure
arrests, beatings or worse.

"The repression is getting worse," notes
Tamerat Negera, who fled to the United States after the newspaper he edited
was closed down in 2009. "His vision seems an attempt to root out any

Meles has criminalized dissent, with
skinder.php> a blogger named Eskinder Nega now facing terrorism charges,
which could mean a death sentence. His true crime was calling on the
government to allow free speech and end torture.

Appallingly, the Meles regime uses foreign food aid to punish his critics.
Ethiopia is one of the world's largest recipients of development aid,
receiving about $3 billion annually, with the United States one of its
largest donors. This money does save lives. But it also "underwrites
repression in Ethiopia," in the words of Human Rights Watch.

Families and entire areas of the country are deliberately starved unless
they back the government, human rights groups have shown. In Ethiopia, the
verb "to starve" is transitive.

Look, I'm a huge advocate of smart aid to fight global poverty. But donors
and aid groups need to ensure that their aid doesn't buttress repression.

The Meles regime, run largely by a coterie from his own minority Tigrayan
ethnicity, has been particularly savage in the Ogaden region, where it faces
an armed uprising. When Jeffrey Gettleman, a colleague at The New York
Times, went to the Ogaden in 2007, he found a pattern of torture and rape.
The government then
arrested Gettleman and two colleagues, detaining them for five days in harsh

The two Swedish reporters illegally entered the Ogaden and met a rebel group
to examine that human rights wasteland. In December,
ts-sentenced.html> they were sentenced to 11-year terms.

Steiner, Schibbye's wife, said of the harsh conditions: "Eleven years in an
Ethiopian prison is equal to life, because you do not survive that long."

a-842e-bbd246761903/afr250112011en.pdf> Amnesty International says that in
the last 11 months, the government has arrested at least 114 Ethiopian
journalists and opposition politicians. It described this as "the most
far-reaching crackdown on freedom of expression seen in many years in

Prime Minister Meles, you may have dodged me in Davos, but your brutality
toward Swedish, American and Ethiopian journalists will not silence the
world's media. You're just inviting more scrutiny.


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